Delivering joy

East Marshall student focused on getting stuffed animals to hospitalized children

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO East Marshall High School junior Melinda Puumala is working to ensure as many children at University of Iowa Stead Children’s Hospital as possible get a stuffed animal this holiday season. Her booth will be set up at Miller Middle School from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, to collect donations during Upward basketball activities.

MONTOUR — The holiday season is in full swing, and many children and families are looking forward to spending time at home together; however, many children will spend the time in a hospital room, and one East Marshall High School student wants to bring them joy this Christmas.

“I don’t really know how I came up with it, but I came up with it in December of 2013,” said EMHS junior Melinda Puumala of her efforts to collect donations to buy stuffed animals for children at University of Iowa Stead Children’s Hospital.

However, by the time the idea came to her in late 2013, it was too late to begin collecting donations before Christmas. Puumala’s plan was to start the project in 2014, and a family emergency reinforced her desire to help hospitalized children.

“When I was going to do it the next year, my dad got sick and I was thinking how I wanted people to be compassionate toward him and bring things to him … so I carried on with what I was doing and brought a bunch of stuffed animals,” she said.

Puumala’s father had caught the H1N1 flu, also known as the swine flu, and had to be life-flighted to Iowa City for treatment. He recovered, and Puumala had a renewed sense of focus for her project.

This year, she said she’s had unprecedented success with donations and wants to continue the trend.

“We get the money and we go to Kohl’s and buy their $5 stuffed animals,” Puumala said. “[Donors] have to donate money because if they donate stuffed animals, there could be allergens on them; for the kids in the hospital, that could possibly make them sicker than they already are.”

Last weekend, she set up a donation booth at an Upward basketball event held by New Hope Christian Church at the Lenihan Intermediate School gym.

“We’ve only been there one Saturday, and we’re still going this Saturday to Miller (Middle School),” Puumala said, adding audience members are informed of the booth during half-time.

She said the booth will be set up at Miller, located at 125 S. 11th St., from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 9 during the Upward basketball games.

Additionally, Puumala said donations will be accepted until Christmas Eve. She said the stuffed animals will be delivered to the hospital either on or right after Christmas Day.

Puumala’s mother, Linda, said she’s proud of her daughter.

“It’s an idea that she came up with completely on her own as a seventh-grader in 2013,” she said. “She’s wanted to be a nurse since she was in middle school, and she loves kids.”

Puumala is an active student at East Marshall, participating in cross country, track, softball, basketball, band, choir and National Honor Society. She said she plans to continue the project after graduation.

“I’m planning on going to Kirkwood (Community College) and then the University of Iowa, and on coming home on the holidays and doing it then,” Puumala said.

Donations to the project can be made at


Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or